By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Over 900 bagged lunches were distributed most weeks last year by the Marlborough Children's Summer Lunch Program. Completely run by volunteers with donations, the program fills the gap during summer months for children who receive free or subsidized lunch during the school year. The number of lunches needed this summer is expected to rise, according to Peggy Schwarz Ayres, who founded the program in 2006.
“The need is increasing all the time,” she said. “More than a third of the children enrolled in Marlborough Public Schools are on the free or reduced lunch program. When school closes, that program closes.”
She was inspired to start the summer program seven years ago after hearing a speech given by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-3rd District.
“Congressman McGovern talked about trying to end world hunger and I thought it's a very noble cause,” she recalled. “I thought there's no way I can end world hunger, but I could do something here in Marlborough.”
The program began with a small group of volunteers and the founder's credit card.
“The first year we fed approximately 65 children three times a week with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with watermelon slices,” she explained. “Last year we were up to about 315 kids a day, three times a week. It has been gradually increasing over the years. And we'se trying to give a more balanced, nutritious lunch.”
The lunch now consists of a meat and cheese sandwich, with an option of cheese-only for vegetarians. Also included are a box of 100-percent juice, a piece of fresh fruit, and a nut-free snack. Starting June 26, volunteers have been meeting to assemble lunch bags each Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at Metro Church on Elm Street.
“People enjoy knowing that what they'se doing is making a difference in somebody's life,” Schwarz Ayres said of her fellow volunteers” efforts. “And it's not only adults; we get kids in there helping. I like to see kids helping other kids.”
Lunches are distributed by about 11 a.m. to several locations: Countryside Village, a subsidized apartment complex; the police substation on Broad Street; the SMOC office on Mechanic Street; and the public schools offering a summer program.
“Any child who needs a lunch, gets a lunch,” said Schwarz Ayres. “There are no forms to fill out and they don's need to register.”
The program relies on donations of food and funds. Its two major supporters are assisting again this summer. This is the sixth year Price Chopper is donating bread, cheese and fruit. Also, Brookfield Renewable Energy, where Schwarz Ayres is employed, has donated $6,000 for the second year.
“We couldn's do this program without them,” she said of the supporters. “We look to our past supporters, as well as new people and businesses who would like to donate to a very worthy cause.”
Checks, made payable to “Marlborough Children's Summer Lunch Program,” can be brought or mailed to the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce (MRCC), 11 Florence Street, Marlborough, MA 01752. The program is a registered 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, so donations are tax deductible. Also, boxes of 100-percent juice, fresh fruit, and individually wrapped, nut-free snacks can be brought to the MRCC office.
Schwarz Ayres and the other volunteers have a good reason for looking forward to the summer program's last day, Friday, Aug. 24.
“For the third year, on the last day of the program, we'sl be able to provide a hot lunch for the kids,” she said. “That was just a dream the first year, and we'se been able to make it a reality.”